“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.” So states Charlotte Brontë in the preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre. I am inclined to believe that the lines were widely ignored by clergy and politicians, for public leaders in nineteenth century Britain were not likely to take the advice of a young lady who only had one real credit to her name. Politicians and clergy of twenty-first century America can hardly be expected to have read Jane Eyre, for how would this woman know the harsh realities of how to assert one’s own will on the masses? In the stewing tea pot of the Religious Right, conventionality is morality. Self-righteousness is religion. George Santayana might well have saved his cramped fingers from writing, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
As politicians oil their moving parts in preparation for next year’s great race, they know that many constituents will gladly accept conventionality as morality without asking about the origins of such practices. Schoolyard bullies who seek their own aspirations praise the great darkness that has settled over New Jersey where education is simply a commodity with which to bargain. Jane Eyre? Who’s she? If she’s a constituent, I’d better spin this slashing of education funds to her liking. Without an educated public, it is much easier to bolster one’s personal authority.
For years educators have been watching in dismay as other developed nations soar past American expertise in science, math, and even geography. Our response: let’s cut education funding. Conventionality is morality. Education teaches children to think for themselves. Is it not better to show them that self-righteousness is religion? We can put other religions on trial (thank you, Mr. King), while conveniently forgetting our founders were largely religious dissenters. To know that, however, you have to read a little history. We are far too busy plotting how to shortchange our future in order to feather further already overly plush nests.